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Free Will

Edited by Neil Levy (Oxford University)
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Summary Most philosophers and laypeople believe that under most conditions human beings, perhaps along with some other animals, possess a power of selecting and implementing actions which is special. This power is very widely held to be a necessary condition of responsibility for actions, for autonomy and for being entitled to take pride in (or to feel shame for) one's achievements. The free will debate in philosophy aims at elucidating the nature of that power as well as at identifying potential threats to it and explaining how it can exist. A major focus of the debate is the compatibility of free will with causal determinism. A minority of philosophers deny that we have free will because free will is incompatible with causal determinism.
Key works The free will debate is ancient in Western philosophy, but was first developed systematically by scholastic thinkers concerning about the relationship free will and God's foreknowledge (eg Ockham 1983). The rise of mechanistic science brought determinism to the forefront and played an important role in the development of compatibilism by philosophers like Hume (Hume 1777). The advent of Frankfurt-style cases (Frankfurt 1969) transformed the late 20th century debate, by allowing compatibilists to dispense with the principle of alternate possibilities (see McKenna & Widerker 2003 for important contributions to this debate). At the same time, important new libertarian views have been developed by thinkers like Robert Kane (Kane 1996) and Timothy O'Connor (O'Connor 2000). Very recently, there has been a revival of free will skepticism (Strawson 1994; Levy 2011).
Introductions O'Connor 2005;McKenna 2008; Clarke & Capes ms
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Subcategories:See also:History/traditions: Free Will
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  1. Douglas Browning (1964). The Feeling of Freedom. Review of Metaphysics 18 (1):123 - 146.
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  2. E. S. C. (1962). An Inquiry Into the Freedom of Decision. Review of Metaphysics 16 (1):167-167.
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  3. E. S. C. (1962). Free Action. Review of Metaphysics 16 (1):166-167.
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  4. L. C. (1966). Freedom, Determinism, Indeterminism. Review of Metaphysics 20 (2):379-379.
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  5. L. C. (1966). Human Freedom and the Self. Review of Metaphysics 19 (3):583-583.
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  6. W. R. Carter (1979). Agent Causality. Tulane Studies in Philosophy 28:71-79.
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  7. Guy Claxton (1999). Whodunnit? Unpicking Theseems' of Free Will. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (8-9):8-9.
    The cornerstone of the dominant folk theory of free will is the presumption that conscious intentions are, at least sometimes, causally related to subsequent ‘voluntary’ actions. Like all folk theories that have become ‘second nature', this model skews perception and cognition to highlight phenomena and interpretations that are consistent with itself, and pathologize or render invisible those that are not. A variety of experimental, neurological and everyday phenomena are reviewed that cumulatively cast doubt on this comforting folk model. An alternative (...)
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  8. Philip Clayton (2009). Constraint and Freedom in the Movement From Quantum Physics to Theology. In F. LeRon Shults, Nancey C. Murphy & Robert J. Russell (eds.), Philosophy, Science and Divine Action. Brill.
  9. Brian Davies (2005). Thoughts About God. Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 79:21-27.
    The author recounts his own journey from inductive arguments for God’s existence and the Free Will Defense, to the Thomistic claim that we do not know God’s essence (which implies, among other things, that God cannot be classified among things in the world). Propositions can be truly affirmed of God, if we distinguish knowing that a proposition is true and understanding what makes the proposition true. We can say “God exists” without knowing what God is. If God is the Unknown (...)
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  10. Paula Droege (2010). The Role of Unconsciousness in Free Will. Journal of Consciousness Studies 17 (5-6):5-6.
    Does neuroscience show that free will is an illusion? No, it shows that unconscious mental states are causally effective in action. Because free will includes initiation by both conscious and unconscious states, the self as free agent should be characterized in terms of more than her conscious deliberations to range over unconscious beliefs, memories and feelings. Further, the ways social relations influence action and the ways actions influence the social environment are relevant to a full account of free will. Given (...)
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  11. Gerald J. Erion (1997). Finding the Faults of No-Fault Naturalism. Behavior and Philosophy 25 (1):29 - 42.
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  12. Malcolm Guthrie & William Benjamin Carpenter (1877). The Causational and Free Will Theories of Volition, a Review of Dr. Carpenter's 'Mental Physiology'.
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  13. Christopher Hookway (2009). Belief and Freedom of Mind. Philosophical Explorations 12 (2):195 – 204.
    There are concepts of freedom of mind and freedom of belief which do not depend on the freedom of agency. After discussing some impediments to such freedom of mind, the paper explores some arguments of Dennett, Michael Smith and Philip Pettit, and Josefa Toribio. Borrowing ideas from Schiller, the paper concludes that such freedom has an emotional or aesthetic dimension.
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  14. J. J. McDowell (1986). AN UNSUCCESSFUL DEFENSE OF AN AUTONOMOUS MAN: A Review of Behaviorism, Science, and Human Nature, by Barry Schwartz and Hugh Lacey. Norton: New York. 1982. Behaviorism 14 (1):41-44.
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  15. Patrick Neil O'Sullivan (1977). Intentions, Motives and Human Action: An Argument for Free Will. University of Queensland Press.
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  16. Michael Otsuka (forthcoming). Can an Incompatibilist Outfox a Compatibilist Hedgehog? Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy:1-14.
    This article raises some incompatibilist challenges for, and queries some of the implications of, Ronald Dworkin’s arguments in his "Justice for Hedgehogs" (2011), that responsibility is compatible with both determinism and epiphenomenalism.
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  17. M. Francisco Pérez (1990). Libertad individual frente a determinación social. Revista de Filosofia 4 (1):161-198.
    The paper explores different possibilities in order of maintaining a compatibilism between free will, in a strong sense, and determinism. The notion of determinism is analyzed in deep. It is defended a general conception of free will as a certain kind of mental causation in absence of fatalism. Also, it is argued that other compatibilist possibilities would be possible inside that general conception of free will, being some of them more radical than other ones.
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  18. S. P. Rastorguev (2009). Vospominanii͡a o Dushe: Matematika Virtualʹnykh Sushchnosteĭ.
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  19. George Arkell Rigagan (1982). Quantum Physics and Freedom in a Whiteheadian Perspective. Zygon 17 (3):255-265.
    This paper attempts to demonstrate the critical significance of early advances in quantum physics for Alfred North Whiteheads development of the categories of his metaphysics and to illustrate the capacity of his system to serve as a bridge between the sciences and the humanities by relating specific Whiteheadian categories to concrete microphysical behavior with special reference to the notion of freedom.
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  20. Bruce Rosenblum & Fred Kuttner (2008). Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness. Oxford University Press.
    The most successful theory in all of science--and the basis of one third of our economy--says the strangest things about the world and about us. Can you believe that physical reality is created by our observation of it? Physicists were forced to this conclusion, the quantum enigma, by what they observed in their laboratories. Trying to understand the atom, physicists built quantum mechanics and found, to their embarrassment, that their theory intimately connects consciousness with the physical world. Quantum Enigma explores (...)
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  21. Christine Tappolet (2009). Faiblesse de la Volonté Et Autonomie. In René Lefebvre & Alonso Tordesillas (eds.), Faiblesse de la volonté et maîtrise de soi. Presses Universitaires de Rennes. 191-203.
    Autonomy seems to require self-control. It also seems that acratic action results from a lack of self-control. Such actions would thus lack autonomy. However, there are reasons to think that acratic actions can be free. Since it is plausible to think that free actions necessarily are autonomous, one would have to conclude that acratic actions are autonomous. My aim is to evaluate the main solutions to this paradox.
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  22. Undo Uus (1999). The Libertarian Imperative. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (10):48-64.
    The prevailing trend of deeming subjective experiences causally idle obfuscates consciousness research as epiphenomenal entities cannot be studied. The most flexible way for conscious experiences to be efficacious is for them to serve as a basis for free action. Regrettably, no objective evidence testifies for this possibility. In this paper I explain that if we seek the truth we must, for purely logical reasons, irrespective of theoretical ideas and empirical data about the origin of our activity, follow the Libertarian Imperative (...)
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  23. B. Allan Wallace (2011). A Buddhist View of Free Will: Beyond Determinism and Indeterminism. Journal of Consciousness Studies 18 (3-4):3-4.
    While the question of free will does not figure as prominently in Buddhist writings as it does in western theology, philosophy, and psychology, it is a topic that was addressed in the earliest Buddhist writings. According to these accounts, for pragmatic and ethical reasons, the Buddha rejected both determinism and indeterminism as understood at that time. Rather than asking the metaphysical question of whether already humans have free will, Buddhist tradition takes a more pragmatic approach, exploring ways in which we (...)
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Free Will and Science
  1. José Luis Bermúdez (2010). Action and Awareness of Agency: Comments on Chris Frith. Pragmatics and Cognition 18 (3):576-588.
    Chris Frith's target chapters contain a wealth of interesting experiments and striking theoretical claims. In these comments I begin by drawing out some of the key themes in his discussion of action and the sense of agency. Frith's central claim about conscious action is that what we are primarily conscious of in acting is our own agency. I will review some of the experimental evidence that he interprets in support of this claim and then explore the following three questions about (...)
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  2. A. J. C. Freeman (1999). Decisive Action. Personal Responsibility All the Way Down. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (8-9):8-9.
    I do not approach the question of free will as a scientist, like Colin Blakemore, or a lawyer, like David Hodgson, or philosopher, like Daniel Dennett, but as a priest -- someone who feels responsible for my own actions and who is called upon to counsel and absolve such as come to me with their shame and their guilt. Should I say that their sense of responsibility is illusory? Or should I encourage them to accept responsibility, and then to deal (...)
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  3. Mae-Wan Ho (1996). The Biology of Free Will. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3 (3):231-244.
    According to Bergson , the traditional problem of free will is misconceived and arises from a mismatch between the quality of authentic, subjective experience and its description in language, in particular, the language of the mechanistic science of psychology. Contemporary western scientific concepts of the organism, on the other hand, are leading us beyond conventional thermodynamics as well as quantum theory and offering rigorous insights which reaffirm and extend our intuitive, poetic, and even romantic notions of spontaneity and free will. (...)
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  4. David Hodgson (1999). Hume's Mistake. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (8-9):201-24.
    Hume claimed that anything that happens must either be causally determined or a matter of chance, and that a person is responsible only for choices caused by the person’s character; so that if any sense is to made of free will and responsibility, it must be on the basis that they are compatible with determinism.
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  5. David H. Ingvar (1999). On Volition: A Neurophysiologically Oriented Essay. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (8-9):8-9.
    During the last decades, the enigmatic field of volition has been the object of quantitative brain mapping studies. In this essay, emphasis will be given to brain mapping observations during overt or imagined willed acts in conscious normal individuals. The findings suggest that such acts are ‘formulated’ in the frontal/prefrontal cortex as neuronal programs for future motor, behavioural, verbal, or cognitive acts. During imagined movements or speech, brain mapping reveals important prefrontal activations which contrast to perirolandic activations during overt willed (...)
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  6. Jack Martin (2012). Agent Causation and Compatibilism Reconsidered The Evolutionary and Developmental Emergence of Self-Determining Persons. Journal of Consciousness Studies 19 (5-6):5-6.
    The central argument of this paper is that compatibilist theories that understand human agent causation as self-determination are consistent with, and can accommodate, important insights from evolutionary and developmental psychology. Agent causation is nothing more than the non-mysterious self-determining capability of persons, understood as embodied, emergent ontological entities whose nature is not fixed due to their uniquely evolved and developed capabilities of language use, cultural construction, self-consciousness and self-understanding, and moral concern. Relevant arguments of Dennett and Searle are adapted to (...)
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  7. Uwe Meixner (2008). New Perspectives for a Dualistic Conception of Mental Causation. Journal of Consciousness Studies 15 (1):17-38.
    The paper provides new perspectives for a dualistic conception of mental causation by putting causation that originates in a nonphysical self into an evolutionary perspective. Nonphysical causation of this type - free agency -, together with nonphysical consciousness, is regarded as being not only compatible with physics, but also as having a natural place in nature. It is described how free agency can work, on the basis of the brain, and how it can be compatible with the result of the (...)
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  8. Henry P. Stapp (1996). The Hard Problem: A Quantum Approach. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3 (3):194-210.
    [opening paragraph]: In his keynote paper David Chalmers defines ‘the hard problem’ by posing certain ‘Why’ questions about consciousness? Such questions must be posed within an appropriate setting. The way of science is to try to deduce the answer to many such questions from a few well defined assumptions. Much about nature can be explained in terms of the principles of classical mechanics. The assumptions, in this explanatory scheme, are that the world is composed exclusively of particles and fields governed (...)
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Free Will and Genetics
  1. Patricia S. Greenspan, Free Will and Genetic Determinism: Locating the Problem(S).
    I was led to this clarificatory job initially by some puzzlement from a philosopher's standpoint about just why free will questions should come up particularly in connection with the genome project, as opposed to the many other scientific research programs that presuppose determinism. The philosophic concept of determinism involves explanation of all events, including human action, by prior causal factors--so that whether or not human behavior has a genetic basis, it ultimately gets traced back to _something_ true of the world (...)
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  2. Patricia S. Greenspan (2001). Genes, Electrotransmitters, and Free Will. In Patricia S. Greenspan, David Wasserman & Robert Wachbroit (eds.), Genetics and Criminal Behavior: Methods, Meanings, and Morals. Cambridge University Press.
    There seems to be evidence of a genetic component in criminal behavior. It is widely agreed not to be "deterministic"--by which discussions outside philosophy seem to mean that by itself it is not sufficient to determine behavior. Environmental factors make a decisive difference--for that matter, there are nongenetic biological factors--in whether and how genetic.
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  3. Patricia S. Greenspan (1993). Free Will and the Genome Project. Philosophy and Public Affairs 22 (1):31-43.
    Popular and scientific accounts of the U.S. Human Genome Project often express concern about the implications of the project for the philosophic question of free will and responsibility. However, on its standard construal within philosophy, the question of free will versus determinism poses no special problems in relation to genetic research. The paper identifies a variant version of the free will question, free will versus internal constraint, that might well pose a threat to notions of individual autonomy and virtue in (...)
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  4. Patricia S. Greenspan, David Wasserman & Robert Wachbroit (eds.) (forthcoming). Genetics and Criminal Behavior: Methods, Meanings, and Morals. Cambridge University Press.
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  5. Peter Lipton (2004). Genetic and Generic Determinism: A New Threat to Free Will? In D. Rees & Steven P. R. Rose (eds.), The New Brain Sciences: Perils and Prospects. Cambridge University Press. 88.
    We are discovering more and more about the human genotypes and about the connections between genotype and behaviour. Do these advances in genetic information threaten our free will? This paper offers a philosopher’s perspective on the question.
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  6. Garry Young (2007). Igniting the Flicker of Freedom: Revisiting the Frankfurt Scenario. Philosophia 35 (2):171-180.
    This paper aims to challenge the view that the sign present in many Frankfurt-style scenarios is insufficiently robust to constitute evidence for the possibility of an alternate decision, and therefore inadequate as a means of determining moral responsibility. I have amended Frankfurt’s original scenario, so as to allow Jones, as well as Black, the opportunity to monitor his (Jones’s) own inclination towards a particular decision (the sign). Different outcome possibilities are presented, to the effect that Jones’s awareness of his own (...)
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Free Will and Neuroscience
  1. George J. Agich (2004). Seeking the Everyday Meaning of Autonomy in Neurologic Disorders. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 11 (4):295-298.
  2. Rosemary Agonito (1975). Neurological Information Processing and Free Persons. Southern Journal of Philosophy 13 (1):3-11.
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  3. Roksana Alavi (2005). Robert Kane, Free Will, and Neuro-Indeterminism. Philo 8 (2):95-108.
    In this paper I argue that Robert Kane’s defense of event-causal libertarianism, as presented in Responsibility, Luck, and Chance: Reflections on Free Will and Indeterminism, fails because his event-causal reconstruction is incoherent. I focus on the notions of efforts and self-forming actions essential to his defense.
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  4. Roksana Alavi (2005). Robert Kane, Free Will and Neuro-Indeterminism. Philo 8 (2):95-108.
    In this paper I argue that Robert Kane’s defense of event-causal libertarianism, as presented in Responsibility, Luck, and Chance: Reflections on Free Will and Indeterminism, fails because his event-causal reconstruction is incoherent. I focus on the notions of efforts and self-forming actions essential to his defense.
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  5. Joel Anderson (2007). Introduction: Free Will, Neuroscience, and the Participant Perspective. Philosophical Explorations 10 (1):3 – 11.
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  6. Kristin Andrews (2003). Neurophilosophy of Free Will: From Libertarian Illusions to a Concept of Natural Autonomy by Henrik Walter. Philo 6 (1):166-175.
  7. Kristin Andrews (2003). Neurophilosophy of Free Will by Henrik Walter. Philo 6 (1):166-175.
  8. Harald Atmanspacher & Stefan Rotter (2011). On Determinacy or its Absence in the Brain. In Richard Swinburne (ed.), Free Will and Modern Science. Oup/British Academy.
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  9. Mark Balaguer (2010). Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem. Mit Press.
    In this largely antimetaphysical treatment of free will and determinism, Mark Balaguer argues that the philosophical problem of free will boils down to an open ...
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  10. William P. Banks & Susan Pockett (2007). Benjamin Libet's Work on the Neuroscience of Free Will. In Max Velmans & Susan Schneider (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Blackwell. 657--670.
  11. Alexander Batthyany & Avshalom C. Elitzur (eds.) (2009). Irreducibly Conscious. Selected Papers on Consciousness. Winter.
  12. Roy F. Baumeister, Alfred R. Mele & Kathleen D. Vohs (eds.) (2010). Free Will and Consciousness: How Might They Work? University Press.
    This volume is aimed at readers who wish to move beyond debates about the existence of free will and the efficacy of consciousness and closer to appreciating ...
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  13. Tim Bayne (2011). Libet and the Case for Free Will Scepticism. In Richard Swinburne (ed.), Free Will and Modern Science. Oup/British Academy.
    Free will sceptics claim that we do not possess free will—or at least, that we do not possess nearly as much free will as we think we do. Some free will sceptics hold that the very notion of free will is incoherent, and that no being could possibly possess free will (Strawson this volume). Others allow that the notion of free will is coherent, but hold that features of our cognitive architecture prevent us from possessing free will. My concern in (...)
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